Magical glowing caves, quaint little towns, enchanting mountaintop castles—these sound like scenes from a storybook, but the world is filled with fairy-tale places that really exist. Best of all, you can visit them! Start planning your idyllic fairy-tale vacation to these 10 dreamy locations around the world.
1. The Isle of Skye, Scotland – Fairy Glen, Fairy Pools, and a Giant’s Thumb
If you think the Isle of Skye sounds like a place from a storybook, just wait until you visit. This wing-shaped island in Scotland thrums with folklore and fairy-tale landscapes. Spend a meditative moment in the Fairy Glen, which resembles Scotland’s mountainous countryside in miniature and just the sort of place you might spy some fay folk.
Then, head to the enchanting Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillins Mountains. Hop across steppingstones while hiking to reach the series of cascading waterfalls and amazingly clear pools. You can even go for a swim! But beware, the water is quite cold.
Round out your trip with a visit to The Old Man of Storr—a jutting rock formation said to be the thumb of a long-dead giant buried there. Go with a local to see all these tucked-away places and learn the folklore on a guided tour of the Isle of Skye.
2. Jiufen, Taiwan – A Fairy-Tale Village for Foodies
If you’ve watched the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away, then the streets lined with glowing red lanterns of Jiufen, Taiwan probably look familiar. While the animators deny direct inspiration, you may just feel as if you’ve been spirited away to a fantasy land while exploring the mountain village of Jiufen.
Foodies flock to this former gold mining town for some of the best street food in Taiwan. The mouthwatering smells of Jishan Street invite you to try everything from tea eggs to grilled snails to famous peanut ice cream wraps.
Be prepared to climb a lot of steep stairways through the very Instagrammable Old Town. Then, relax at the beautiful A-Mei Tea House. This vine covered building adorned with red lanterns serves tea and snacks on a cozy rooftop deck with sweeping views of the coast.
3. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany – The Castle of the Fairy-Tale King
Perched among the mountains, its white towers reaching towards the sky, Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany looks like a storybook illustration brought to life–which may have been the intention of King Ludwig II of Bavaria when he commissioned it. In 1866, Bavaria lost a war to Prussia and signed a treaty that stripped Bavaria of its military power. No longer a sovereign ruler, King Ludwig II designed Neuschwanstein Castle as a retreat to live out his fantasy of being a real king.
In fact, Neuschwanstein Castle served as the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland. Inside, you can tour through intricately decorated and lushly painted rooms including the grand throne room and the king’s bedroom. Many tour companies offer day trips to Neuschwanstein Castle from Munich.
4. Cappadocia, Turkey – Fairy-Tale Places Above and Below
From soaring above the fairy-chimney rock formations in a hot air balloon to traversing the tunnels of an underground city, the Cappadocia region of Turkey offers fairy-tale places around every corner. Ancient settlers literally carved their homes into the area’s unique stone pinnacles. Explore cave dwellings and rock-cut churches painted with vibrant frescos at the Goreme Open-Air Museum. And don’t miss the breathtaking views from the top of the Uchisar Castle.
Up the wonder factor by staying in a luxurious cave suite in a hotel carved right into rocky landscape. You can even sip Turkish coffee on a rooftop terrace while watching the hot air balloons take flight at sunrise.
5. Hoh Rainforest, USA – An Enchanted Forest
Imagine—the uncurling fronds of ferns line your path. A little wren sings from a huckleberry bush, then flits into the undergrowth. Ent-like trees, furred in thick, green hanging moss, spread their branches above you. It might sound like a fairy tale, but this place exists. Journey to the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park of Washington State to experience it for yourself.
Take a day trip to from Seattle to explore the Olympic National Park’s unique ecosystem. Misty or rainy weather adds to the area’s mystique. Just be sure to pack some rain gear. The Hoh Rainforest is, well, a rainforest after all.
6. Alsace Region, France – Fairy-Tale Towns
Belle may have wanted to escape her provincial life in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, but the charming villages in the Alsace Region of France make for the perfect fairy-tale getaway. In fact, the region’s towns of Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé were the artistic inspirations for Belle’s hometown. Sing a cheery bonjour to the local baker as you stroll past colourful timber-framed houses decorated with a bounty of hanging flower baskets.
Plus, the Alsace Region is famous for its wine. Visit local vineyards to sample vintages like Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer. You could easily spend your whole vacation relaxing in this fairy-tale setting or take in Alsace’s castles and villages on a day trip from Strasbourg.
7. Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand – A Magical Cave
In a fairy tale, places like caves typically house dragons or magical artifacts. But in New Zealand, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves beckon you with a different kind of enchantment.
Descend below ground and past stalagmites and stalagmites formed millions of years ago. Test out the amazingly pure and resonant acoustics of the naturally formed Cathedral chamber. Then, board a small boat and glide across a dark underground river. As if by magic, the cave ceiling twinkles with the turquoise light of hundreds of tiny glowworms. Learn about the Maori folklore surrounding these mystical caves and their glowing inhabitants before returning to the day-lit world.
8. Ta Prohm Temple, Cambodia – Mystical Jungle Ruins
The roots of huge strangler figs snake over the crumbling ruins of Ta Prohm Temple to create a scene that looks just like fairy tale. Or perhaps the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie that was actually filmed here.
Head to Siem Reap, Cambodia to see this wondrous nature-engulfed structure for yourself. The Angkor Wat complex contains dozens of amazing temples, and many tours include a stop to the enchanting Ta Prohm Temple. Be sure to also check out the detailed carvings of the Angkor Wat temple and the huge serene faces of the Bayon Temple. You can easily spend multiple days exploring the area on your exotic fairy-tale vacation.
9. Park of Monsters and the Garden of Ninfa, Italy – Fairy-Tale Gardens
What’s a fairy tale without a few monsters? Head to the Parco dei Mostri (Park of Monsters) in the Garden of Bomarzo a few hours north of Rome. Commissioned by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini in 1552, the Park of Monsters was designed as an expression of grief after the death of his first wife. This surreal garden contains huge sculptures of duelling giants, strange creatures, and a screaming monster whose mouth contains a nice picnic table.
South of Rome, you can visit another of Italy’s fairy-tale places—the Garden of Ninfa. Only open for a few weeks during the spring, the romantic the Garden of Ninfa is considered one of the world’s most beautiful gardens. Walking around ancient ruins covered in blooming flowers, it feels like you could meet dancing nymphs or mystical dryads around every corner.
10. Lake Bled, Slovenia – Ring the Wishing Bell
From the Dragon City of Ljubljana to the romantic Lake Bled, Slovenia is full of fairy-tale places. Journey to the Julian Alps, not far from Ljubljana, to the picturesque Lake Bled. For some the best views of the lake’s iconic island, head to Bled Castle. You can tour the museum, enjoy a meal at the restaurant, or go wine tasting in the castle wine cellar.
No trip to Lake Bled would be complete without a boat ride to Slovenia’s only true island. After docking, ascend 99 steps to the beautiful Church of the Assumption of Maria. According to legend, if you ring the church’s bell three times, your wish will come true.
And, of course, you can’t leave Lake Bled without trying its famous cream cake. Both fluffy and custardy, it’s sure to send your taste buds on their own fairy-tale adventure.
Which fairy-tale places are on your travel wish list?